Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Internet is for ... Privacy?

36 Responses

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  • Tom Semmens,

    It then offers several scenarios where the line is not so clear:

    There is nothing new here. To my mind these are social issues that should be of no interest to law makers, not technology or legal ones.

    It is up to you to protect your privacy as much as possible. Viz, I never discuss my personal or immediate family life online and I have a strict no photos policy when I am out on the rantan and the people with the cameras show up. I also carefully manage my facebook profile, privacy settings & friends. My yardstick is to ensure nothing appears there that I wouldn't want my mother reading. To me these measures are simple prudence, like not wandering around naked with the curtains open.

    You have to be a bit tougher online though. If you have friends who are serially indiscrete idiots and/or say stupid shit then de-friend them immediately, and tell them why. Most people actually understand.

    Problem solved.

    Why the law commission has to get involved beats me.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1738 posts Report Reply

  • John Fouhy,

    I read an interesting article a little while ago on de-anonymization. Here's the post: http://33bits.org/2010/02/19/ubercookies-history-stealing-social-web/

    I'll try to summarise:

    1. The web is really social these days. We are out there joining facebook groups, following people on twitter, joining livejournal communities, flickr groups, etc etc. The precise collection of groups you join is almost certainly unique to you.

    2. It's possible for a website to query your browser history. All it has to do is use javascript to put a hidden link on the website you're viewing, and then see if the link changes colour. If it does, the link is in your browser history. Modern computers with modern javascript engines can probably try a few thousand links in a second.

    So scrape popular facebook groups / twitter follow lists / etc. and do some back-end processing. Then stick a little javascript in your website to test each of the URLs and you can link any visitor to their social web profile in a few seconds, with reasonable accuracy.

    Imagine if recruitment agencies started doing this? Even if you use a fake name, they could still automatically supply all your major online identities along with any CV you submit.

    It's not happening now, but there's nothing impossible about it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    see if the link changes colour

    Very smart - and worrying when combined with Facebook et al's continued pushes for web-wide identity

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16261 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    Is this the right time to mention Panopticlick's browser uniqueness test?

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Is this the right time to mention Panopticlick's browser uniqueness test?

    Yes.

    That is seriously awesome.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • John Fouhy,

    Very smart - and worrying when combined with Facebook et al's continued pushes for web-wide identity

    It is smart -- and apparently that history-stealing attack has been known about for ten years. Browser makers have done nothing about it because they don't want to compromise usability.

    If you use Firefox, you can try SafeHistory to guard against it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    Is this the right time to mention Panopticlick's browser uniqueness test?

    Damn:

    Your browser fingerprint appears to be unique among the 812,895 tested so far.

    And this is Firefox on Ubuntu, which is the most common browser/OS combination I use...

    EDIT: I lie - from now on I'm browsing exclusively on my iPod Touch.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 799 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Panopticlick's browser uniqueness test

    Wow - big difference with script blocking on or off for that site.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16261 posts Report Reply

  • John Fouhy,

    Here's a recent essay by Bruce Schneier: http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/04/privacy_and_con.html

    In January, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg declared the age of privacy to be over.
    [...]
    It's just not true. People, including the younger generation, still care about privacy. [...] They're not technically sophisticated about privacy and make mistakes all the time, but that's mostly the fault of companies and Web sites that try to manipulate them for financial gain.
    [...]
    To the older generation, privacy is about secrecy. [...] But that's not how privacy works, and it's not how the younger generation thinks about it. Privacy is about control. When your health records are sold to a pharmaceutical company without your permission [...] -- your loss of control over that information is the issue. We may not mind sharing our personal lives and thoughts, but we want to control how, where and with whom. A privacy failure is a control failure.
    [...]
    With all this privacy erosion, those CEOs may actually be right -- but only because they're working to kill privacy. [...] There's no malice on anyone's part here; it's just market forces in action. If we believe privacy is a social good, something necessary for democracy, liberty and human dignity, then we can't rely on market forces to maintain it. Broad legislation protecting personal privacy by giving people control over their personal data is the only solution.

    [the whole thing is worth reading]

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • David Ritchie,

    That is seriously awesome.

    Perhaps I'm missing something. That's all pretty standard stuff (user agent string, supported plugins). Where's the page which tells me which pr0n sites I've been visiting?

    Wellingtron • Since Nov 2006 • 163 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    what, you've forgotten?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16261 posts Report Reply

  • Dave Patrick,

    Mediawatch sounded a cautionary note about the news media's use of social media for story leads.

    This, and the associated reporting of Facebook messages, "Your Views" posts and tweets as news, is something that seems to be happening more and more. Do reporters not actually go and interview real people any more, or do they just trawl Facebook, follow people on Twitter, and regurgitate press releases?

    Can we have a few less reporters and a few more journalists, please?

    Rangiora, Te Wai Pounamu • Since Nov 2006 • 232 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Perhaps I'm missing something.

    Me too. My browser would generally seem unique on account of the IP address it connects from.

    Interesting that someone could profile my browser, so changing IPs wouldn't hide it. But obviously, changing browsers would. Or workstations. Or any single one of the settings they profile on, like the fonts or something. I'm not getting spooked just yet, not that I have anything to be spooked about anyway, considering I use my real name all the time.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    My yardstick is to ensure nothing appears there that I wouldn't want my mother reading.

    My mother has oft remarked that she wishes I were a tad more interesting for this very reason.

    I personally don't have a particularly iron fisted grip on my personal information online (other than my credit card details, game account info, etc-non "personal" but financially valuable information, in other words) and I'm comfortable with the fact that for the most part, if I put it on the internet, I may have to justify it in a job interview some day in the future. I'm not about to deny myself the functionality of certain online tools I enjoy using just because I'm worried some curious sod may see something silly I've done, though.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 846 posts Report Reply

  • Dylan Mordaunt,

    It's interesting to consider the Google Government Requests in a 'removal requests per capita' context- the countries on the Wired list would rank very differently, although it is difficult to be certain without knowing the absolute number of requests for those countries with '<10 [removal] requests'.

    HTML tables not supported, so:

    Removal Requests (Per 1,000,000 people)
    New Zealand 2.37
    Germany 2.28
    Israel 1.38
    Italy 0.98
    UK 0.97
    Australia 0.80
    Spain 0.79
    The Netherlands 0.60
    Canada 0.48
    France 0.16

    i.e. NZ is (possibly) the leading government for requesting data removal from Google, on a per capita basis.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2007 • 20 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    If you use Firefox, you can try SafeHistory to guard against it.

    Could not be installed as not compatible with FF 3.6.4. Does that mean I'm more up to date than Stanford University? Well since the last update was in 2007, then yes, I think it does... ;-)

    Would 'BetterPrivacy' do anything?

    My Panopticlick score;

    Your browser fingerprint appears to be unique among the 812,972 tested so far.

    Currently, we estimate that your browser has a fingerprint that conveys at least 19.63 bits of identifying information.

    Is that good, or bad? See if I can change a few settings and get the number down.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    i.e. NZ is (possibly) the leading government for requesting data removal from Google, on a per capita basis.

    Ah, thanks. I was writing fast this morning and didn't see the tables.

    My guess would be that all or nearly all of those would relate to court suppression orders.

    Edit: And, possibly more so, YouTube bullying clips and the like.

    So it would seem fair to speculate that in many (the majority?) of those cases, the NZ government was protecting the privacy of individuals.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18503 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    There is nothing new here. To my mind these are social issues that should be of no interest to law makers, not technology or legal ones.

    It is best if we keep the law functioning the way it always did, sure. But new technology does make things possible/easy that previously were not. So you do have to go over the problematic cases. It was never so easy to put a picture of someone else in a public place as it is now. Not only is there the internet for dissemination but also the fact that so many more people carry at least one reasonable camera with them at all times in their phone, with ever increasing storage so more pictures are being taken too.

    So the law makers do need to keep abreast of the practicalities of the present day, and the implications of technology during a time of massive technological change.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • John Fouhy,

    Would 'BetterPrivacy' do anything?

    I'm not sure.. I switched to Chrome a little while ago, to combat instability problems in Firefox (caused by Adobe Flash, I believe).

    So running a google browser makes me part of the "privacy? who cares?" set, I guess..

    "Currently, we estimate that your browser has a fingerprint that conveys at least 19.63 bits of identifying information."
    Is that good, or bad? See if I can change a few settings and get the number down.

    I thought the explanation of information theory linked from that site was quite good.

    I think that 19.63 figure is based on their calculations overall, and not specific to you in particular.

    (incidentally, I just went there with my iPhone and was still unique. I guess I'm the only 3GS owner in New Zealand to have visited that site..)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    So the law makers do need to keep abreast of the practicalities of the present day, and the implications of technology during a time of massive technological change.

    Yes, quite. And Tom seems dedicated enough to demand that no photos be taken when he's on the town. But should he have to?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18503 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    It can be tricky. I like taking photos of bands and concerts. So far I have only 'published' them amongst friends, but given the way this works, anyone of them could end up on a website without my knowledge or control. Would that bother me? Not too much, if it's credited, but if I was making a living out of photography, then yes it would become a different matter.

    The other side of this is, do the artists have a say in how photos of them are used? Julia Deans was here recently and when I said I might have some reasonable photos she said 'just post them on my FaceBook page'. Umm, Ok, maybe, but I wasn't looking to leverage off your fame, to be honest.

    Interesting times.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Gizmondo Facebook's Privacy Changes Get Scary

    Was actually there for the lastest in the iPhone saga.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1094 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Yes, quite. And Tom seems dedicated enough to demand that no photos be taken when he's on the town. But should he have to?

    I'm curious what his response is if anyone just says "Get stuffed. It's my camera." Does he leave? Or make a scene? Or act as if the whole world is watching?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    It is best if we keep the law functioning the way it always did, sure. But new technology does make things possible/easy that previously were not.

    Not just that, but the ability of things to go viral in cyberspace makes 50 years ago look like nothing.

    Something might get viewed a million times in 24 hours if it's interesting enough for people to email and facebook it around. That's a hell of a lot of non-privacy.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6147 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    Gizmondo Facebook's Privacy Changes Get Scary

    I liked the first comment:

    they forgot 2021: Farmville becomes self aware and enslaves the human race

    Shades of that Italo Calvino short story about the telephone network comming alive and connecting people based on what they say in private conversations.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 846 posts Report Reply

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